Friday, May 30, 2008

MEMOIRS

A telephone call from Palmdale, CA brought a compliment from Daughter #2 who said that my book GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR resonated with her because she enjoyed learning about life on the home front during WWII and how it affected my childhood. The remark caused me to reflect on the proliferation of memoirs in our contemporary world. Several of my friends have taken classes about the genre of memoirs, and have begun writing them for their adult children to enjoy.

Dianne Landry, a friend in New Iberia, LA who brought up 11 children (!!), certainly has a storehouse of memories to pass on about her life with a large French family and about the community of New Iberia. “Community characters” is a subject that she likes to talk about when I sit next to her at Fortnightly Literary Club meetings during the months I’m in New Iberia. She’s an expert on the subject of New Iberia notables, and I told her she should write a book on that subject. However, she says she’s too busy with her memoirs. Dianne says that she wrote two installments of her memoirs and sent them by e-mail to her 11 offspring, then suffered a little hiatus. During that hiatus she received outcries from her adult children–“when are you going to do the next chapter?” She has gone further, and recently her husband “Smitty” published his memoirs, which cover the years leading up to his marriage to Dianne. He recently said,“I’ll let Dianne take it from there.” In actuality, Dianne did take it from there, balancing her life as a wife and mother with an active community life, even a career as a realtor.

Dianne also rescued thousands of glass negatives belonging to outstanding New Iberia photographer, Carroll Martin (now deceased), now in the archives of the Iberia Public Library and that form a valuable collection of photos covering the latter part of 19th, as well as a large part of 20th century life in this community. The photographs range from pictures of the Royal Gourmet Society to a collection of historic buildings in this little city on the Teche. A book featuring many of the photos was published by the Daily Iberian a few years ago. Dianne also has interviewed and video-taped many deceased New Iberians and plans to make the tapes a permanent part of area archives.

Jan Grogan sent me an e-mail from London regarding the blog on gardens, informing me that London was blossoming with roses and delphiniums right now. Jan has been working on her memoirs for several years and writes within a group that coaches and supports her to get the book published for her three children and their offspring. Jan, a meticulous writer who settled in Washington, D.C., has lived all over the world: Africa, South America, Scotland, England, and other ports. She has great stories to relate, even the one about the beginning of our friendship, which began in 1960 in a desolate small town called Electra, Texas when our spouses were petroleum engineers in the oil patch. Gene was a field engineer with Cities Service, and my spouse was a field engineer with Texaco. Electra was a shabby, former boom town where the only recreation of any note was a trip to Waggoner’s Ranch to watch a small-time rodeo—West Texas at its liveliest, folks. Gene became a top administrator with Cities Service (now CITGO), and traveled around the world in his management job. I visited the Grogans in London enroute to Iran (where I lived two years – see SOPHIE’S SOJOURN IN PERSIA at www.amazon.com) back in the 70’s, and they introduced me to life abroad. I look forward to reading Jan’s memoirs as I have read numerous interesting Christmas letters from her while she traveled around the world and back…and, in Gene’s retirement, still ventures across the pond.

Memoirs differ from autobiographies in that they are shorter and sometimes involve only a few events in a person’s lifetime. The word is derived from the French word memoire and when writing a memoir, you can contemplate, in retrospect, the meaning of particular events in your life. Sometimes, the ones written by seasoned authors seem fictional in content, but most of us just try to convey true happenings in a personal, conversational way that will at least engage family members.

Last year, I wrote “a memoir upon a memoir,” a vignette highlighting the missionary work of my great-grandmother Dora Runnels Greenlaw and the trials she endured while trying to get the Women’s Missionary Union established in Washington Parish, Louisiana. I attempted to get the vignette published in Episcopal publications, but I suppose it was just too Baptist for them as the piece was rejected several times. However, I did deliver a sketch about it as a program for the Episcopal Churchwomen at the Episcopal Church of Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana where the women responded well. Last night, I couldn’t sleep because the idea to publish it in my blog kept returning to me. The memoir will be a rather long piece for one blog so I am publishing it in two installments. Stay with me as I pass on “a memoir upon a memoir” for my family and friends. It’s called SHE BUILT A HOUSE UPON A ROCK. I hope to post it tomorrow.
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